The crying game
There are many qualities associated with Australian sport and sportsmen. One of those is that they are, supposedly, as hard as nails. So the sight of their national captain openly sobbing as he announced his resignation in front of the world's media on November 26, 1984, was news in itself. But there was more to his decision that might have seemed the case at the time.
Kim Hughes was a very talented batsman, and no one who witnessed his two innings at Lord's in the 1980 Centenary Test - and I include myself among those - will ever forget them. But he never quite managed to raise his game consistently , and captaining a side in transition and still scarred by the divisions of World Series Cricket eventually took its toll. "Identified with the cause of the board by former Packer signatories," wrote Gideon Haigh, "Hughes was only suffered by them as a skipper."
While he was scoring runs, he was suffered by both selectors and team-mates. But in 1983-84 he led a side to the Caribbean that contained players that he did not think should be there. The Australians lost 0-3, and Hughes struggled, ten Test innings yielding 213 runs and a best of 33. The pressure continued to mount the following season when, again against West Indies, he made 79 runs in his first four innings and Australia lost both Tests. To add to his woes, the media were savage in their criticism, and much of it was personal and vitriolic.
Defeat in the second Test at Brisbane was the final straw. At the post-match press conference, Hughes started to read a pre-prepared statement to the media. "The constant speculation, criticism and innuendo by former players and sections of the media have taken their toll," he said. "In the interest of the team, Australian cricket and myself, I have informed the ACB of my decision to stand down as Australian captain."
But Hughes, who was clearly emotional as he entered the room, had tears rolling down his cheeks as he spoke, and he could not go on. He got up, handed the statement to Bob Merriman, the Australian manager, who was sitting next to him and, head bowed, left the room. Merriman finished reading the text.
"When I sat there in the press conference I just couldn't stop myself," Hughes reflected years later. "It was an emotional thing to do and I don't regret doing it. There was no media manager as well at that time; you had to fend for yourself."
Clive Lloyd, the West Indies skipper, was bemused. "In this job you have to learn to take the good with the bad," he shrugged. "Obviously the pressure of the last few years has built up for Kim and he now finds he must get out."
John Woodcock in The Times had sympathy for a man who he said had been "rubbished more than any other Australian captain". He singled out Ian Chappell, the former captain now turned commentator, for particular blame, stating that he had "missed no opportunity of finding fault". He added that there had been little chance of finding loyalty in "the ghosted writings of Rod Marsh, his vice-captain, or Dennis Lillee, his best bowler".
"I just couldn't get along with Lillee and Marsh at all," Hughes later recalled. "We were so uneasy with each other. Now we are best mates and meet regularly, but then the chemistry wasn't good at all."
But as time went on, it became clearer why Hughes had quit. He was told by the selectors at the start of the season that he would not see out the series as they did not see him as being a good enough leader, and what is more that despite his strong objections he had to carry out pre- and post-match interviews with Chappell, who then slammed his every move.
Hughes decided to quit on the fourth day at Brisbane and neither Merriman, Fred Bennett, the ACB chairman, or Greg Chappell, the head of the selectors, tried to dissuade him. Only Dave Richards, the ACB chief executive who later headed the ICC, attempted to talk him out of it, but by then Hughes realised that he had few friends left where it mattered.
Although he had resigned as captain, he indicated that he wanted to carry on as a player. Given his poor form, that was hardly justified, but perhaps to assuage their own guilt, the selectors retained him for two more Tests. He scored 0,2, 0 and 0.
Hughes, however, vowed to fight back. Although he missed out on selection for the England tour in 1985, he later said that he was still keen to regain his place.
But in April he spoke to Merriman and Richards, and those conversations left him "disillusioned about the politics of Australian cricket ... I couldn't stomach the thought of playing for the ACB because of the way the game was being run." He blamed the ACB for the rebel tour of South Africa which followed, accusing them of fostering such unhappiness among the players that it made recruiting easy.
A conversation with one selector, Bert Rigg, was the final straw. Rigg told him that the selectors on the England tour that summer had been told not to pick three of the 17-man squad for the Tests. "The more you go, the sicker it gets," Hughes said at the time. "I am just pleased to be out of it."
Hughes picked up the phone and called Ali Bacher in South Africa - he had already declined an offer to join the tour in March. By the end of the year, he was leading the rebel side in South Africa. From there, there was no way back.
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Martin Williamson is managing editor of Cricinfo